Saturday, May 1, 2010

Your 'Gateway' to Native American culture

Finally, someone has put the wow in pow wow.

And that means a half-naked man in a loincloth juggling a two-headed torch.

“It’s pretty dangerous — a way of showing the prowess and fearlessness of a warrior and his agility,” said Cliff Mathias, director of the Redhawk Arts Council, which will sponsor the Samoan “Fire Knife” dance as part of its three-day “Gateway to Nations” Native American festival, starting on June 4.

The all-weekend event brings together more than 1,000 Native American artists, performers and educators, demonstrating the finest in Native American song, dance, drumming, food and art.

Spectacles don’t all feature fire, but they’re all exciting, including the Men’s Fancy War, where men spin furiously with a circle of eagle feathers on their backs; the Hoop Dance, performers use small hoops to create shapes of animals while they dance to traditional drumming; and singing groups from northern Canada.

The visual element of the festival is another draw, said Mathias, thanks to the colorful regalia of the performers — from giant feather headpieces to buckskin dresses.

“It’s a modern take on our old styles,” said Mathias. “We still dance and sing the same, but we do use a lot of bright colors, which I think a lot of people are surprised by when they come to the pow wow.”

Indeed, the majority of the attendees are not of Native American descent (especially since Brooklyn’s American Indian population comprises half a percent of the borough’s population), but merely show up to experience the culture and authentic Native American cuisine, including buffalo burgers, venison stew, corn soup and fry bread.

This year, the festival, which typically has a strong emphasis on Native American culture of New York state, will be branching out to encompass indigenous people from outside the U.S., including a performance by a Polynesian dance troupe.

“Gateway to Nations” at the Gateway National Recreation Area Floyd Bennett Field [50 Aviation Rd. off Flatbush Avenue in Marine Park, (718) 258-0324], Friday, June 4, 10-5 pm; Saturday, June 5 and Sunday, June 6, 11 am-7 pm. Tickets are $12 for adults, $7 for seniors and children (6 and under free). For info, visit


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